By Carol Lea Spence
Ellen Crocker takes a picture of the tree canopy for the HealthyWoods app. Photo by Carol Lea Spence
LEXINGTON, Ky., (Sept. 7, 2020) — A new mobile app makes receiving research-based woodland management information as easy as reaching for the phone. HealthyWoods, a collaborative effort between forest specialists from Kentucky and other hardwood-producing states in the Appalachian region, provides woodland owners with a convenient tool to scout the health of their woods.
“Traditional extension programming is valuable and reaches a lot of people, but some people are more tied to their phones, especially younger or newer landowners. They might be more likely to use an app than attend an in-person extension program,” said Ellen Crocker, assistant professor of forest health in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “We made this educational tool that walks them through the process as they walk through their woods.”
Crocker, with UK Department of Forestry and Natural Resources chair Jeff Stringer, was a co-lead on the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant-funded project. Margaret Staton and Abdullah Almsaeed, from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, led the software design team.
“We worked with forest specialists from New York, Ohio and Maryland down into Georgia and South Carolina to come up with a program that would be useful for woodland owners in a wide range of settings,” Crocker said. “We tried to assume that a user might not have a lot of knowledge about what’s growing on their property. It walks them through the basic principles and guides them with pertinent questions.”
Users answer a series of questions and can upload pictures from their phones. Questions deal with such things as how the canopy looks, how healthy the trees are, what the understory looks like and whether invasive species are present.
“Healthy can look really different if you have a mature forest with lots of big trees or you’ve just had a harvest and have a lot of young growth. The app assesses that. Do they have big, full canopies? What species do they have in their overstory? What species are regenerating around them? Is that what the owner wants or is there a mismatch for what their goals are?” Crocker said.
After completing the questions, the user immediately receives a report geared to their management goals, whether that’s timber production, recreation or attracting wildlife. If called for, the report includes suggestions for improving the stand. It also provides contact information, if the owner wants to bring in a professional to help guide management. The user can save the report as a PDF that can then be emailed. They also can review previously saved reports online to see their progress.
“We’re hoping that it will function as a good starting-off point for extension agents and professional foresters who are working with woodland owners,” she said. “We hope that this new tool will be a way for landowners to set their woodlands up for success in the long-term.”
HealthyWoods is available for free for iPhone and Android devices.